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"You look worse than I do," Sirius observed when James opened the back door. His pajamas were singed all the way to his knees and he had a smear of soot running across his forehead.

"You had to set the bed on fire," James quipped, turning to go back into the house, leaving the door swung wide open behind him. Sirius hesitated for a moment before following, not sure if he'd woken James' parents. The Potter's were inherently kind people and they'd long since gotten used to finding Peter, Remus, Sirius or any incarnation of said at the breakfast table in the morning, but he wasn't sure that even their compassion could extend to the sight he must have been now.

In his hurry to put as much distance between Grimmuald Place and himself, he'd walked a mere four blocks, immersed in the macabre reality of his situation, before ducking into an unlocked garage to transform. He spared no moment to clean himself up and, whatever the bloodied leather jacket, the the shards of glass and the reek of whiskey weren't doing for his appearance, the journey surely had.

"So what happened to you?" James asked, sleepily, flicking the kitchen light on and heading for the sink.

Sirius almost smiled. Remus was a wonderfully sympathetic friend and far handier than James with a healing potion, but of all his friends, James was the only one who could be counted on to act as if nothing had happened. "I had a minor disagreement with the family silver," Sirius offered by way of explanation. Taking his jacket off and draping it over the back of a chair.

James raised an eyebrow but didn't inquire, running a towel under the tap for a few seconds before handing it to Sirius.

"Did we wake your parents?" Sirius asked.

The question was pointless - mere seconds after the final syllables escaped, there were shuffling footsteps cutting across the sitting room.

"James, what on earth are you shouting o... Well hello, Sirius."

James' father was a kindly looking man, even when awoken at two thirty in the morning, and his expression only softened when he realized they weren't alone. It was precisely the opposite greeting James could have expected had he been the one to appear at Grimmuald Place.

"I'm sorry we woke you," Sirius apologized immediately, genuinely sorry for his intrusion.

"Nonsense. And you'll call me George," he reminded them, pulling his glasses out of the pocket in his dressing gown and putting them on, screwing up his nose at Sirius. "Now, lets take a look at these cuts, hm?"

"It's nothing," he replied, his tone placatory and light, drawing away from James' father even as he spoke.

"I heard - something about the family silver." With the hands of a physician trained for more years than James and Sirius' combined age, he gingerly inspected the cuts on Sirius' face. "That father of yours does have quite the temper," he observed, taking out is wand and conjuring a pair of tweezers.

Standing up a few seconds later, George observed both boys for a moment before speaking, a patient smile over top his ill-concealed worry. "Well, I can debride this here just as well as they could at St. Mungos. James, go get him some clean clothes and stop by and lie to your mother about what we're up to, would you?"

James didn't argue, disappearing into the corridor.

In his canine form, it had been easy to ignore the macabre thoughts that occupied his conscious mind, but in the silence that fell with James out of the room, they proved impossible to shake. The Potter's had treated him like a second son since his first visit to their home and they would take him in without hesitation, but his father's cold admission had brought to bear a very cruel reality - he would be endangering them. For years, the nagging belief that he might be a potential hazard to his friends had eaten at him, but he'd ignored it because it felt like paranoia. If tonight had proven anything, it was that everyone in his life was a potential target for his father's aggression. Idly, he wondered what James would say if he knew that Lily had been bandied about in the black household with such hostility.

Down the hall, James was creeping past his parents bedroom, stopping only long enough to listen for the soft rustle of pages turning.

When he poked his head back into the kitchen, dropping a clean t-shirt onto the table as he passed it, George stopped what he was doing long enough to inquire has to the more complicated portion of his mission.

"She's reading. I told her Sirius was spending the night," James answered, opening the icebox in search of something to snack on.

"Can you hand me the first aid kit?" he asked in return, holding out his hand for the bag. James retrieved it from a cupboard by the door and gave it over. "What did she think of your pajamas?" George asked warily, rifling through the bag and drawing out a potion bottle.

"That Sirius should save his pranks for business hours," James snarked in response, grinning.

Tension broken, James slid into the chair opposite them and put the plate of cold roast on the table, pushing it toward Sirius.

"No thanks," he answered, shaking his head.

"Hold still," George reminded him, pouring a little of the potion onto a strip of gauze before daubing it on the large gash in his forehead. Sirius winced, the potion stinging as it came into contact with the exposed flesh. "That will be the liquor," James' father explained, glancing between them. "Now seems like an inappropriate time to remind you both to keep OUT of trouble but nevertheless...' He trailed off for a moment, still smiling lightly as he worked.

Wounds all properly cleaned and bandaged, James' father got up, patting Sirius on his good shoulder paternally. "You should eat something. That potion will have a tendency to fiddle with the appetite a bit." Sirius nodded. "All right then, I'm off to bed."

The two of them sat in silence for a few minutes, staring blankly at the roast before James got up, pushing his chair back from the table. "We should probably go upstairs before my Mum starts poking around."

Sirius nodded again.

Distracted by his own dark thoughts, he wasn't much of a conversationalist as James tried to pry the details loose, offering only grunts of acknowledgment interspersed with short phrases. Eventually, James gave up, nodding off and leaving Sirius to his musings.






Lost in thought, Sirius didn't pick up on the telltale signs of morning - birds chirping in the back garden or the sounds of footsteps on the floors below. Instead, he lay flat on his back, still dressed, in exactly the same position he'd been in when he laid down, staring blankly at the ceiling.

"I don't want him going back there," James' mother hissed to her husband, filling a kettle and setting it on the stove with a heavy clunk. "We should have dome something years ago, George."

"I don't like it any more than you do, Mary, but he's not seventeen yet and we certainly can't stop him if he wants to go home," he protested from behind his paper.

"Why would he want to?" she asked, her tone incredulous. "He's not welcome there and he knows it - why would he want to risk something like this happening again?"

"It's his home."

"He could have been killed," she said in an angry huff. "He can stay here - at least he'd be safe."

"He could," George answered slowly, setting the paper down and taking off his glasses. "But we can't force him to."

"Well why not?" she asked, not really meaning it.

"I know you're frustrated," he responded soothingly. "It will work itself out."

In the background, the kettle squealed shrilly - a sound no one could have escaped hearing and Mary rushed to daub her eyes. "They'll be down any second," she managed from behind the dish cloth, trying to compose herself.

She wasn't wrong. Seconds later, Sirius was rounding the corner into the kitchen alone. "G'morning," he intoned, trying to smile without wincing.

"It's good to have you back, Sirius," Mary whispered, setting a carton of eggs onto the counter before catching him in a warm hug.

"You warned her then?" Sirius asked, smirking at James' father as he pulled away from her. Mary Potter mightn't have been the quintessential picture of a matriarch but it certainly wasn't in her nature to over look the bandages on his face or the awkward way he was held his shoulder.

She smiled genuinely again before gesturing for him to sit down.. "There is a clean cup for you on the table," she ordered, returning to her eggs.

"You don't have to do this," he started to protest, but she shushed him. Smiling knowingly, George shook a section of the paper loose and slid it across the table. "I should be getting back anyway," he lied.

James' parents exchanged a loaded glance before George put the paper down, folding it neatly and pressing the creases - the room stone silent. "Sirius," he started, taking a deep breath. "What happened last night?"

Sirius bristled at once, straightening up in his seat. "It's nothing." While his parents were harder to fool - never hesitating to take matters into their own hands - deceiving James' always came with a pang of regret. As much as he'd felt like he'd taken advantage of them last night, lying to them now seemed even more disingenuous. What was worse, he was so obviously not doing it well.

Mary, eyes on her eggs, had stopped with an eggshell still in her hand and George's patiently knowing smile was unfading as he looked on. "It wasn't nothing," he corrected. "And it's not the first time."

Casting a sidelong glance at James' mother, Sirius leaned across the table. "It's fine," he hissed under his breath.

"Mary and I discussed it this morning," he replied, ignoring Sirius' protests. "We'd like you to consider living here instead."

The words were barely out of his mouth when Sirius was on his feet again. The chair, shoved hastily back, scraped on the wooden floor before crashing back down again.

"No," he answered coldly. The sudden rush of adrenaline had his pulse throbbing across his wounds - the pain a reminder both of why he was here and why he couldn't stay.

"Stop arguing with them," James grumbled from the dining room. Angry, Sirius hadn't heard him come down the stairs. Still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, James collapsed into the nearest available seat and seized a cup. "It's pointless... and loud," he added, ignoring the palpable tension.

"Sod off," Sirius fired back, glaring at him.

"What? Where else are you going to go?" James asked rhetorically

"Term starts in a week," Sirius reasoned, taking a deep breath in an effort to steady himself. Defying his parents had been more than just a frequent pastime - it was simply a matter of course in the Black household and he'd spent the first fifteen years of his life honing the skill. Reasoning with people required a different kind of talent all together. Combining that with their worried expressions and he could almost feel their eyes boring into his psyche. "You're over reacting."

"You could have been killed," Mary pointed out, interjecting into the conversation for the first time. Sirius didn't need to see her face to know that she was crying - the choked off tears sounding in her voice. "Don't make me worry over you more than I have to. Stay here," she plead.

It was a maternal gesture he'd never experienced before and it stopped him in his tracks, the color draining from his face at once. For his part, James simply rolled his eyes. "Give over mate, you practically live here anyway. This will just be less travel time."

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